Reeves remake is a bad day on ‘Earth’
December 12, 2008
While Robert Wise’s science-fiction classic “The Day the Earth Stood Still” was a simple story of deep ideas, the remake is an overblown, puny-minded tale featuring extraterrestrials too stupid or lazy to do a background check on the species they condemn.
The new, dumbed-down “Day the Earth Stood Still” predictably updates the nuclear warning of the original to a caution about our rapacious treatment of the planet itself. Keanu Reeves’ Klaatu shows up proclaiming he represents a coalition of civilizations that are friends of the Earth, and woe to us if we don’t start treating their buddy more nicely.
Klaatu then makes the most halfhearted “take-me-to-your-leaders” speech imaginable. When he’s told the United Nations has better things to do than listen to pitches from busybody spacemen, he shrugs and settles on Plan B: Save patient Earth by eliminating the infection.
Naturally, spending a few hours with some nice humans (Jennifer Connelly as an astro-biologist, and Jaden Smith as her stepson) makes Klaatu realize our race has its good points, too.
“There’s another side to you. I feel it now,” Klaatu obtusely mutters.
Let’s see: These aliens have been visiting Earth for ages, they’ve had spies living among us, and when they land, they go through the elaborate process of transforming from their own species into humans; but after all that, they don’t sense anything worth saving in us until they hear a bit of Bach’s “Goldberg Variations” and see a mom hug her kid?
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The shortsightedness of Klaatu and his kind is just cheap, shallow storytelling by director Scott Derrickson and screenwriter David Scarpa so they can unleash the visual-effects hounds and show devastation wrought on the planet courtesy of computer-generated imagery.
John Cleese has a small but satisfying part as a scientific genius, though the fact that his character won a Nobel Prize for research into “biological altruism” will draw barks of laughter.
Kathy Bates is horribly miscast as the U.S. defense secretary. Here’s an actress who should never be called upon to state ponderously, “I still answer to the president.”
Unlike Wise’s film, there’s no thoughtful message here, no insight as to our place in the cosmos.
The remake even befouls the original’s iconic images. Gort, Klaatu’s robot pal, now stands 28-feet tall, four times the size of Wise’s metal guy. And while the filmmakers maintain key elements of his design, he’s lost his menace, coming off as a sleek cartoon giant vaguely resembling an Academy Awards statuette tarnished black.
The 1951 original offered a warm, wry, compassionate performance from Michael Rennie as Klaatu, an alien arguably more human and humane than any of Earth’s inhabitants.
In contrast, the stiff and stony Reeves scores a new high on his own personal Zen-meter, coming across as so aloof and lifeless that he might as well have played Gort.